See You in December!

Wednesday, 2. July 2014 23:22 | Author:

Christmas+%232Last week I was delivering the keynote address at a conference in Dayton (the Paris of Ohio).  After I was finished I was asked several times a question I have heard many times before:

“Do you have a book?”

For years I have wanted to write a book about where I see education heading.  I’ve started to put words to paper (pixels to screen) only to despair and write a blogpost or Twitter entry instead (140 characters is so much more manageable…some days I have to struggle to find this much).

However, as I feel time’s winged chariot more acutely each year, I know that my times and opportunities are limited, so I want to give it one more try.  At present, the book will be called:

 “Here There Be Dragons,” Sailing Off the Map into a New World of Education

I hope to talk about my vision of how education is changing and how educators at all levels can mange this change.  Many of the thoughts come from my most recent talk of the same name.  I want to reflect from this place in the middle, no longer selling the idea of tech, but not knowing exactly how things will turn out.

I want to focus on this for the next five months, not writing blog posts during this time.  (I know you think that I stopped writing long ago).  Anyway, I hope to resume with the 2014 version of “The 24 Blogposts of Christmas” on December 1.

An article I was working on recently hit the heart of my thinking, and I will probably use this as the preface.  The opening will serve as my last post for a while.  The full article will be available in Momentum Magazine

Wish me luck!



Life on the Other Side of a Tipping Point

Nothing is more stimulating to a cause than significant opposition.  We in Catholic education gravitate by nature to the underdog position, fighting against overwhelming forces of intractability and ignorance, armed only with our idealism and passion.  We are fueled by a vision of a better world of education, energized to challenge all who believe otherwise.  However, occasionally a time comes, in education and in life, when the challenging idea prevails over the opposition and becomes the new establishment.  Ironically, this is the time when we are most challenged as educators and reformers as our vision becomes reality.

Such a time faces us now in the field of educational technology.  Gone are the heady days of predicting radical transition of classroom instruction to educators convinced that what was always would be.  There is nothing shocking about a presenter who urges schools toward 1:1 instruction, blended learning, or flipped classrooms, as many of these are the current reality of large percentages of the audience.  Phrases like “21st Century Skills,” “Digital Immigrants,” or “Sage on the Sage vs Guide on the Side” are beginning to sound trite, old banners of a past campaign.  While we know that schools and teachers are in all stages of digital evolution, there is a strong collective agreement on direction toward digital tools and resources.  A few skirmishes still take place on the periphery, but even these feel like the dying moans of a bygone time.

The term tipping point has existed long before educational technology, but it was brought into popular understanding mainly through Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.  In this book, Gladwell explored how a variety of forces work together to create substantial change.  All of these forces push against an existing reality or perception and over time reach a boiling point, irrevocably overturning the old and introducing a new dominant reality.

In the past few years there has been a tipping point in attitudes and approaches to technology in education.  The belief that technology will have no effect or limited effect is no longer dominant. The point has tipped, and it is not tipping backward again. Even the most traditional of instructors grudgingly accept that technology is here to stay.

It is a exciting experience to have envisioned change and see the idea catch on.  Conversations can start with assumptions that were once a point of argument. Ideas that were once dreams start appearing in classrooms.  Things don’t work, and then they do work.

However, in the midst of these successes, another voice is present.  It stirs in the hearts of the most fervent advocates.

What now?


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Colon: The New Star of the Keyboard

Wednesday, 30. April 2014 14:46 | Author:

Every time I finish one of these posts, the blog quickly recedes into the back of my mind. The beast has been fed, and I can relax. The time of writing is a small part of the challenge; mainly I’m struggling with topics that mean something to me and might have value to a few people who read. Today I have a very short post with a single idea.

It’s time to re-engineer the keyboard to reflect the realities of modern writing. On a traditional keyboard we need to flip the semicolon/colon key. Currently the default is semicolon, and one must hit the caps key to add a colon. Even as one of the few people who still knows how to use a semicolon correctly, I notice that I use it far, far less than the colon. Modern digital conventions have brought the colon into a prominence it didn’t possess at the dawning of the keyboard. Too often in proofreading I find semicolons in the middle of colon-requiring expressions (or worse, I don’t find them).

Now, I anticipate the response to such a move would be general protest from touch-typists worldwide. I acknowledge that I remain a fast two-to-five finger typist, so probably this is a greater problem for me; however, (correct use of semicolon) I wonder whether decisions on the best format of the keyboard should be dictated by past users or potential future ones. Do we tie into a system forever because this is what we have always done, even if textual realities (and devices) have changed?

I see another example of this on my iPad keyboard. One of my greatest gripes with the onboard keyboard is the lack of a delete key. Deletion always has to be done through the backspace, which doesn’t always best meet my needs. I know that the virtual keypad is built to resemble a traditional keyboard as much as possible, but why couldn’t one shift key be replaced with a delete key? A user already has to manipulate the different keyboards for letters, numbers, and symbols, so learning another convention wouldn’t seem too hard (they could even have left and right settings for the shift for user preference).

There is no mention of keyboards being given to humans by God in sacred scripture (unless I missed something). With the advent and growth of the virtual keyboard, let’s make a better one.

As always, I welcome your ideas.


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Productivity Shifts

Monday, 31. March 2014 22:57 | Author:

During presentations to teachers and administrators about the 1:1 classroom for iPads or other devices, I introduce three “givens” for every program. These three are not only necessary for real student use in the the classroom, they also justify the cost of the program in substitution value alone. The first of these is obviously textbooks which can be of greater quality and lower cost when delivered digitally. The second is a levelled adaptive learning system that can provide individualized instruction and remediation. The third is a group of productivity apps allowing students to produce documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Before any other apps, these create a framework for learning.

When talking about the productivity suite, there is always an unspoken context. No matter how I describe it, I am always really saying, “You know, the things we always did with Microsoft Office.” Office has been the gold standard for over ten years, and though competitors have arisen (and some have disappeared), there is a cultural understanding that all documents will be in this format. One of the fears I have heard from parents and teachers in iPad programs is that their students won't learn how to use Office and will be less qualified for the work force.

Other options are available, and until this weekend I have suggested three. As of September 2013, Apple made their productivity suite free with the activation of an iPad. This makes it difficult to recommend against Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, though I personally don't like using them and they don't blend well with MS Office documents. A number of schools have used the Google Drive tools, which are free, easy to use, and travel well across platforms. However, the iPad app is primitive (particularly the presentation tool), and the documents often lose all formatting when brought into other formats. I have always liked Office2HD (which has just changed name this weekend to Citrix QuickEdit). When the Apple suite were all pay apps, it was significantly cheaper, and the tools and controls were better than Pages (though again the presentation app was primitive). It also integrated seamlessly with Dropbox, and did the best job importing from and to Office formatted documents. This WAS the landscape…until this past week.

With remarkably little splash, Microsoft released their office suite for iPad. The appearance of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel finally gave iPad users that ability to view, edit, and create MS documents. I used each program briefly both to edit an existing document and create a new one. As with all other iPad word processors, it doesn't have all the functionality of the desktop product, but it was easy to use, with more tools than I expected. Best of all the apps were free…or so it seemed

However, this was far from a clean solution. First, most of the capability of these apps is dependent on having an Office 365 account. This is Microsoft's latest strategy to market their productivity giant. Rather than sell Office as a one-time purchase of roughly $300, Office 365 offers all of the Office Suite through a yearly subscription of $99. All in all this seems a fairly sensible approach. Most users don't use a single version for more than three years, and most attractively, one account allows the user to download the program on five desktop/laptop devices and five mobile devices.

The challenge is going to find a way to integrate this cost challenge into a school situation. If Microsoft were smart, they would make a single iPad account available for $10 per year/per student. No school is going to tack an extra $100 a year to the already slightly high cost of the iPad, but I could see them gratefully adding $10 to stay in the known universe.

If Microsoft continues to add functionality and solves the student price challenge, they will develop the same dominance in the tablet world that they experienced in desktops. Let's hope!

As always, I welcome your comments.


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I Fear the Body Static

Wednesday, 26. March 2014 14:46 | Author:

In my last post I talked about Nearpod, a presentation/assessment app that I liked, but ultimately found lacking. My experience with Nearpod has reawakened in me a concern I've had for some time, both as trainer and Superintendent of a tech-forward school system. Helping teachers to effectively use tools that are coming into our classrooms is a great thing, but how do we prepare them for five years from now when the tools and techniques will be different again?

During the past month I've done several trainings for teachers in my Diocese. I've enjoyed these very much, and it has excited and encouraged me to see the willingness of teachers in all phases of their careers to embrace new tools. My current training model stresses functions over apps, though I demonstrate a few of the apps (Socrative, Educrations) that I find easy really transformative. Following up on some of these sites, I've been gratified to see these being regularly used in classrooms. Despite the fears of some naysayers, teachers ARE getting it. Given a clear structure and limited apps, any teacher can use 1:1 devices to effectively improve instruction. I know that as these pioneers grow in confidence that this classroom experience will improve and grow.

But what about Nearpod and the many Nearpods to come? Are teachers developing not only the set skills but the flexibility to continue assessment and growth into new devices and new applications? Here I'm not so sure. My idea of teaching limited apps is to create a “safe” environment for building, but what if one of these apps should disappear, or if a school should change devices? Are we creating the flexibility to adapt what has been learned onto a new canvas?

It is a cliche of the edtech world that we are preparing children for a future that doesn't yet exist and that we can't imagine. The same can be said for teachers. The future of the classroom is being rewritten every day, and we need to develop expectations and structures for growth. Educational technology is not a body of knowledge; I don't know that there are any “bodies” of knowledge anymore. There are no clear boundaries and tomorrow laughs at mastery.

Many schools are doing a good job with this by setting up learning communities for ongoing assessment and development of all classroom skills. But a local community is limited by the capacity of the individuals, and in a small environment there may not be enough drivers to pull the entire organization. We need to teach schools how to reach out beyond their environment and to never stand still, and we need to instill in teachers the expectation of this change.

How do you teach flexibility? If you know, please tell me.

As always, I invite your comments

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Nearpod: A Near Miss Might Be Bigger Than a Mile

Friday, 7. March 2014 16:09 | Author:

As the iPad continues to grow in popularity and numbers in school 1:1 programs, I am always on the lookout for utilities that will improve the teaching and learning experience in this environment. Yesterday I was completely infatuated with a new crush, but like most crushes, it was short-lived and bitter-ending.

Nearpod is a combination slideshow assessment tool for teachers and presenters. The basic version of the app is free and crosses all platforms. A presenter can upload a PowerPoint presentation, and by sharing a login number, the presentation can appear on the devices of all the audience. While it’s been easy to share the presentation before, this has the added ability to keep one’s audience from moving off the current slide. The most interesting feature to me was that interactive slides can be fit into the presentation, allowing the presenter to gather data through multiple choice, short answer, or poll questions. Everyone who is logged in can respond to these questions, and these responses are immediately visible on the presenter screen. This is very attractive to me, as I’ve been looking for tools that can increase interactivity and assessment. The app also has a homework feature, where students can complete related assignments later and have the results reported automatically to the presenter machine. Ecstatically, I texted several educator friends that I had seen the promised land.

Ah me, be careful about early enthusiasms, dear reader, for time and experience can change one. Today I’m singing a slightly different tune.

Yesterday, I decided to use Nearpod for a presentation I’m giving today, and in the setup and practice, I saw behind the mask. First the positive, the app is very easy to use, I uploaded a PowerPoint file, and it was automatically converted. Simple editing tools allow basic additions and changes. I put in interactive screens which were easy to compose. Once done, I logged into the presentation on my phone and was able to follow easily. The interactive slides were easy to read and respond, and the results appeared on my main screen quickly and in clear graph form. I could see a teacher watching these graphs to see the comprehension level of students in order to adjust instruction. These features address many instructional needs.

As well as the creation tools, the are also premade lessons available for purchase. I liked this as an add-on option, though I didn’t purchase any, so I can’t attest to the quality. There is a preview of all slides before purchase. At $2.99 per lesson, this could get very expensive, though I could see the value of occasional use.

So with all this positive, why am I disillusioned? Nearpod falls into a category of application that does many things well but has a few essential flaws that sour the experience for me.

In this case there are three deal breakers. First, the PowerPoint slides are imported as pictures, not slides, so any builds or interactive elements are lost. I rely on bringing in points as they are discussed to keep my audience with me and occasionally for dramatic or humorous effect. This was one of the values of PowerPoint over older models, and with Nearpod I give it back. Second, there are two essential elements that are missing from the free version. The free version allows sharing with 30 devices, so any teacher or presenter with a group over 30 could not share with all (even the paid version is capped at 50, so most of my audiences are too large). The free version also doesn’t have the homework module, which was one of the most attractive features. Finally, the pro version is not a one-time purchase, but a monthly subscription of $10.00. In the apposphere, this is so beyond most other tools. This is Netflix pricing (Netflix is cheaper) not classroom tool pricing. Though group rates are available, I can’t see paying even half this for one classroom tool. There are too many free alternatives which may lack integration, but work well and, once again, are free.

After talking about some of these challenges on Twitter, I received contact from one of the creators. We had a good discussion, and he respectfully listened to my points. I told him that I would continue to follow the progress and experiment, but without some significant changes, I couldn’t see myself using or recommending it.

So I’m returning to SlideShark, Prezi, and Socrative, all free and in some ways better. There are few things as frustrating as a tool that almost gets it right.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Hard to Hear Through the Static

Monday, 17. February 2014 20:30 | Author:

I need to start this post with an apology. Before writing today I went to the comment box of my website only to discover over 500 comments for review. My website is set up that all comments go first to a holding tank for me to review in order to assure that nothing inappropriate appears. Though this is a personally owned blog, and the opinions I express are my own, I also intend it as a professional discussion in line with my position as Superintendent of Catholic Schools. I would advise any teacher (or any blogger) to do the same. I need to be clear, this is not to suppress contrastisting or contradictory opinions, only statements that seem inappropriate for my intended audience.

And in reality, I have never blocked a response for these reasons. The responders to my posts are respectful, helpful, and highly professional. Even humorous responses are tempered and smart. I have wonderful readers.

So coming back to the 500 responses. Of these 497 were spam, advertising products or linking to sites, usually of questionable value and character (Viagra anyone?). I have to go through all of these responses and send them to the spam folder, gratified to find the occasional needle in the haystack. I can only imagine what my blog would look like if I didn’t have comment approval. It’s annoying to look for interesting comments only to be faced with a pile of junk, and many times (like this) I let it slide for a week or so. This in turn delays the posting of the “good” responses and probably hurts conversation, hence my beginning apology.

What I don’t understand is why the controls I have in place don’t seem to work. My settings on WordPress are supposed to require a Captcha in order to send in a response, but clearly the spammers have broken this code. Likewise, I have a setting that says that once a responder has been approved, she or he should be automatically approved going forward. However, the same people keep appearing over and over again in the haystack.

This “static” in my filter file is a microcosm of a larger problem on the Internet…there is too much junk (not a very deep realization, I know), and it’s very hard to sort through the junk for the value…so sometimes we don’t.

Also if anyone knows how I can fix my WordPress filter to eliminate these problems, I will be very grateful.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Wednesday, 12. February 2014 19:50 | Author:

It may be the teacher thing, or it may be the Catholic thing, but fairly often I think that I am doing everything wrong.

As I have said often enough, I love presenting at workshops and conferences. When I'm in front of a good group and I have them laughingand nodding, that weird combination of teacher, stand up comedian, and pundit in me feels most at home. I get good reviews for my talks, and against all odds I to time to be invited to things. It is only natural, therefore, that so must satisfaction must be undercut by pangs of doubt.

This doubt-knife usually goes like this: Greg, you are standing in front of a group of people telling them that they need to get their students more involved in classes. Sage-like, you are announcing the death of the “sage on the stage” (often ironically standing on a stage when you say it). You have to find a way to get your audience more directly involved. And you should rinse the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher (oh, that's a different voice of self-criticism).

I make peace with these concerns by telling myself that conferences are only one type of learning, and that one would hope that a rousing talk might spur attendees to work and learn on their own afterward. A large audience and a limited presentation time do not lead themselves to group work.

However, I continue to feel the need to involve people more actively in the hour. Currently I do the classic, “Share with someone nearby,” but I don't feel that this really involves them in learning; it just gives me a couple of minutes of not talking. In smaller groups, I ask questions ineffectively, and I often have people raise hands to indicate things, but still….talking head.

Perhaps this is unsolvable, but does anyone have any ideas? Has anyone seen effective audience involvement beyond attention in a middle to large group at a conference?

As always, your ideas are welcome

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Getting on the Same Page

Monday, 20. January 2014 15:57 | Author:

Well, I'm back. After my holiday marathon I really had nothing left to say, so I took a few weeks off to recharge and look for new trivialities to explore. I want to thank all of those who looked in during the 24 days of blogging, particularly those who took the time to comment. Despite using a captcha, a large number of spam replies get into my box for approval, and it is such a joy (bordering on shock) to see a real person amid the knock-off Louis Vuitton ads. But now it's 2014, and time to get back to work.

Starting with something small today. Every so often I come up against new realities that bump up against the old, a new wine that doesn't fit into old wineskins. We see this in our language all the time…I wonder what kids think when they are asked to dial someone's number on a phone, or type a paper, or roll down the car window. The realities of my childhood carry forward in language after the physical realities have changed. Most of these, like the ones I have mentioned, are primarily quaint, and humorous. However, some of these clashes actually can cause confusion and probably need redefinition.

I joined Goodreads during the break as part of my resolution to read more during 2014. Goodreads is a great way to organize my own reading and a good source of new books. I can keep a record of progress in my own books while reading reviews and recommendations of others. Given my obsession with listing all the books I read (someday I'll write about books and the heavenly pool hall), this seems to be an enjoyable, non-intrusive addition to my digital footprint.

One of the areas of this site allows me to update my progress in books that I am currently reading. Taking a few minutes, I can enter what page I'm on and give a quick update of my thoughts so far. As I started to update this page, I paused at page number as I realized that the number I was entering was higher than the total pages listed. Clearly I have the font on my iPad larger than the text of the printed book. Suddenly it hit me as it hadn't before that page numbers in an era of digital readers are completely irrelevant. The page number is changed by the font size, the formatting of the digital text, or the characteristics of a particular reading program. We can be reading the same book and be in the same place and be on different pages.

The reality behind this, of course, is that in the digital world the word page has no meaning. A page is a physical reality which reflected the limitations of print distribution. In a seamless, endless world of digital text, we talk of pages only as convention or to represent sections. A page is not a page, and frankly a book is not a book.

In most cases this dichotomy has little impact. It doesn't matter to me what page I'm on as long as I can find my place when I return. Should anyone read my Goodreads entry, I doubt they will think me a liar because my pages don't fit within the site guidelines. Frankly the same difference has always existed between reading the hardcover and paperback versions of a book.

However, there are times when this is important. In a social sense, when I attend my book club, it is very difficult to point out a section or quote for discussion when we all have different books in front of us. Similarly, in the classroom it will become more difficult for teachers to highlight things for students (or give reading assignments). In academic writing, notation of sources will become close to impossible. This is not a quaint anachonism that can carry on as long as we dial our touch phones.

I'm not certain what the resolution is, but I think it will have to do with absolute position. Digital readers should adopt a standard of absolute position, so a bit of text can be found easily no matter the font or the source. Probably for the time being this should be tied to the pages of the paper book. Ultimately, however, this standard could allow pinpointing of not only general area, but the exact sentence or word of interest. By establishing these standards, digital readers can improve, rather than confuse, literary scholarship and discussions.

I think I've reached the bottom of the page, so I should stop.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Day 24: Fear

Tuesday, 24. December 2013 15:45 | Author:

In the Gospel infancy narratives, angels appear to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Though the overall message is slightly different, the greeting is the same for all three. “Fear not,” says the angel. Of all the things angels have to say, “fear not,” seems the most important, and is a core message of Christmas that is too often forgotten.

As we begin our celebration. Of Christmas today (and the celebration of the end of 24 days of blogging) many of us will feel a rush of emotions: joy, anxiety, peace, irritation, love, solemnity; but do we feel any less fearful? I don't think so. One could argue between money stresses, family stresses, and time stresses that Christmas time is one of the most fearful time of year, and we as a generation are the most fearful in history.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner (in one of the most gorgeous pieces of writing ever set to paper) captured this well:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

What I like about this observation is the line “so long sustained that we can even bear it.” Fear is not something we try to overcome through faith and action, it overwhelms us and paralyzes us. In the Cold War context of these comments, Faulkner talks about the fear of being blown up. This is less a present fear today, but this Cold War anxiety has carried on to our times in more insidious and destructive ways. Today we are not so afraid of a faceless enemy. Today we are afraid of each other, and it doesn't show itself in cowering, it shows itself in anger. In fear we lob preemptive missiles, hoping to destroy the frightening threat.

I've talked about several instances of this during these past days. We are afraid of changes in the education process. Whether it be technology integration or Common Core Standards, there is an underlying suspicion that these cannot lead to anything but a distruction of society, of religion, of our future. There is fear that educational changes will make older methods and techniques obsolete (they will), will make children approach learning differently (they will), will lose the essential values of our existence (they won't). How would these critics react to a message from an angel to fear not? We so need voices to say, “It's going to be all right.”

I'm not saying this from a smug distance, for I know that I fall into fear more than most. My wife has often suggested that I wear a constant “We're Doomed!” button. I think that Christmas is a challenge to me to stop fretting about ultimate ends and to have faith (in every sense of the word) that directions are being drawn by a hand larger than my own.

I hope, as I finish this 24 day (highly uneven) blogging caravan, that you may have the gift of fear not, this Christmas. Whatever your religious background, I hope we can join together in celebrating this good life we have and continue to work to make it better for others.

Don't be afraid, it's Christmas.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Day 23: Friends Sometimes Drift Apart

Tuesday, 24. December 2013 2:35 | Author:

When I first moved out, my mother gave me a plant and a copy of the Better Homes and Gradens New Cookbook. The plant has long since died, but the cookbook has become part of my life. In the thirty plus years since, I have taken my plaid bound friend from place to place, and it was my regular reference as I tried to navigate my way around the kitchen. My life and cooking changed in many ways, but BH&G always had a recipe or tip to help me through disaster. I knew if I followed directions, My friend would see me through.

As I worked on the menu for Christmas dinner in two days, I thought it might be nice to have Yorkshire pudding popovers to go with the roast beef. By habit I switched over to Youtube and watched three videos, comparing the recipes and looking for the easiest. Today I did a run through to see how much time it took and figure out where I should fit it in to the other cooking. Only as I bit into prototype A did it occur to me that I hadn't thought to look in my old companion.

Actually, it has been a long time since I've dug out BH&G, or any other cookbook for that matter. When I want a recipe, I look online, and I usually look for a video. As I realized this, I felt a pang of nostalgia and perhaps a little regret. My daughter, should she want to cook, will not need or want an all-in-one cookbook, she has a far larger cookbook at her fingertips.

I can't argue for traditional cookbooks (any more than I can argue for traditional textbooks). Online recipe collections, coupled with demonstration videos give one a portable cooking school. I know that just as anyone can post bad ideas, people can (and do) post bad recipes, but there are plenty of dependable sites. I've often been amazed to find a recipe for something that I thought I made up in my head.

Even my old tried and true recipes, which still live in my recipe box, are also on my iPad, and it is easier for me to have this out when I'm cooking (even though I sometimes get doughy or eggy hands on the screen). The cards I copied from books or magazines, or gifts from my mom, are still cooked, but untouched.

I'm sure someone could give a reason why the cookbooks are still good. Someone will probably suggest that cookbooks still work when the power goes out…though I would suggest that my oven would also not work.

So what does this mean? Well, it shows that I have the same nostalgic regret for some of the older technologies that I see in other people. I understand the regret of those who feel the loss of paper books, newspapers and magazines. As comfort of the familiar is lost, it is easy to feel that the new is wrong. Life is becoming different, and things are being left behind.

Like my friend the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

As always, I welcome your comments


By the way, I just checked and the BH&G doesn't have a recipe for Yorkshire pudding popovers.


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